Darren Tofts

Prefiguring Cyberculture: An intellectual history edited by Darren Tofts, Annemarie Jonson, and Alessio Cavallaro

by
May 2003, no. 251

Many people regard cyberculture as the territory of boffins, sci-fi enthusiasts, and ‘itinerant wanderers’, and inescapably limited to computer technology. However, the term is also applied to a field of research, one that has always been interdisciplinary: traversing philosophy, mathematics, physiology, biology, linguistics, cognitive sciences, physics, and sociology. Prefiguring Cyberculture: An intellectual history exemplifies this cross-disciplinary approach.

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Cultural criticism at the end of the twentieth century, says Darren Tofts (at the end of 1999), is suffering from a kind of amnesia. Interactivity is not an invention of Playstation games or electronic mail, but has been a crucial constituent of avant-garde art throughout the century: neglect this history and risk collapsing culture into fin-de-siecle, commodified monotony. Both those who rhapsodise and those who malign the anarchic non-linearity of current hypermedia as if it is an unprecedented cultural phenomenon ought to recall, Tofts advises, Marcel Duchamp’s bewildering, ludic work of art, The Large Glass: The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. Hypertext archives and libraries, he notes, are only now beginning to manifest the scope and complexity of James Joyce’s textual systems. Hypermedia, Derrida once observed, simulates ‘joyceware’, and Tofts adds that it has ‘a lot of catching up to do’. Indeed, hypermedia is a term that he considers far more descriptive of the radical artistic inventions of the modernist vanguard in the first half of the twentieth century than of our contemporary ‘interactive culture’.

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Serpent’s Tooth is a massive, sprawling novel. It is panoramic in its vision of twentieth century social and political history, and meticulous in its rendering of one man’s struggle to sustain the mighty ideal his father has inspired in him.

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